The Vicksburg-Warren School District has voted to keep the mask mandate in place until Jan. 14 after tabling the discussion in last month’s meeting.
The School Board met on Thursday to discuss the possibility of ending the mandate. A group of concerned parents and citizens gathered outside the administrative building in a show of their desire to choose for themselves whether or not their children should wear masks.
Secretary Brian Pratt argued that the Board was more lax in its approach to masks when the infection rates were higher. Since then, the masks have driven the numbers much lower than previous levels. Pratt wanted a unit of measure to know at what point parents and students can expect to see the mandate relaxed.
“We initially instituted the mask mandate because we were concerned about the variant [Delta] and how it was exploding in the community, and it was,” stated Pratt.
Superintendent Chad Shealy clarified that the reason for the change in mask mandate was due to the CDC and the Health Department changing their position on it.
“At the beginning of school they did allow for those who were vaccinated not to wear masks,” stated Shealy. “Once the variant hit, the CDC and the Mississippi Department of Health changed their recommendation for K-12 schools and they said everyone should wear a mask whether they are vaccinated or not.”
Dr. Daniel Edney weighed in via telephone and stated that the concern was for the upcoming holiday season.
“This is not over,” said Edney. “It’s going to get at least a little bit worse before it gets better. We just have to watch how the next two to three weeks goes.”
According to Edney, there have been indicators that there may be yet another spike before things start looking better. He supported CDC’s and the Mississippi State Department of Health’s recommendation to keep the masks in place.
“We’ve already seen counties where the numbers are starting to escalate,” said Edney. “You can’t just look at day-to-day numbers. You have to look at all the trends and look at all the indicators around the state, and that’s the purpose of the CDC and the Health Department is to do that for you.”
Vicksburg Warren School District President James Sturgis, Jr. weighed in, in favor of keeping the mask mandate in place. Sturgis cited the upcoming holiday season bring in a lot of travelers and raising the risk of infections.
“Thanksgiving, you have your families coming in from all over, and Christmas, you have your families coming in from all over. Some may be vaccinated, some may not be vaccinated,” stated Sturgis.
Vicksburg-Warren School District board member Alonzo Stevens spoke out in concern to those who work in the schools who have underlying health conditions.
“We have a lot of good teachers, good bus drivers, good cafeteria workers that have underlying conditions,” stated Stevens. “We just need to sit back a little bit, take a deep breath and hold on for a minute.”
A resolution was introduced to continue the mask mandate until Jan. 14, 2022 and to allow teachers who are immunocompromised to require that students continue to wear masks even after the district mandate is lifted. The process for teachers to request students to wear masks in their classroom will have to be examined to ensure no HIPAA violations occur.
The Board voted in favor of keeping the mask mandate 3-2 with Shealy not voting.